Stories by Modern English Authors
Part 2 out of 8
thought that she would have been so carried away."
"Very likely not. However that may be, the young lady was very
decidedly carried away, and having quite made up her mind that her
stepfather was in France, the suspicion of treachery never for an
instant entered her mind. She was flattered by the gentleman's
attentions, and the effect was increased by the loudly expressed
admiration of her mother. Then Mr. Angel began to call, for it was
obvious that the matter should be pushed as far as if would go, if
a real effect were to be produced. There were meetings, and an
engagement, which would finally secure the girl's affections from
turning toward anyone else. But the deception could not be kept up
forever. These pretended journeys to France were rather cumbrous.
The thing to do was clearly to bring the business to an end in such
a dramatic manner that it would leave a permanent impression upon
the young lady's mind, and prevent her from looking upon any other
suitor for some time to come. Hence those vows of fidelity exacted
upon a Testament, and hence also the allusions to a possibility of
something happening on the very morning of the wedding. James
Windibank wished Miss Sutherland to be so bound to Hosmer Angel,
and so uncertain as to his fate, that for ten years to come, at any
rate, she would not listen to another man. As far as the church
door he brought her, and then, as he could go no farther, he
conveniently vanished away by the old trick of stepping in at one
door of a four-wheeler and out at the other. I think that that was
the chain of events, Mr. Windibank!"
Our visitor had recovered something of his assurance while Holmes
had been talking, and he rose from his chair now with a cold sneer
upon his pale face.
"It may be so, or it may not, Mr. Holmes," said he; "but if you are
so very sharp you ought to be sharp enough to know that it is you
who are breaking the law now, and not me. I have done nothing
actionable from the first, but as long as you keep that door locked
you lay yourself open to an action for assault and illegal
"The law cannot, as you say, touch you," said Holmes, unlocking and
throwing open the door, "yet there never was a man who deserved
punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend, he
ought to lay a whip across your shoulders. By Jove!" he continued,
flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon the man's face,
"it is not part of my duties to my client, but here's a hunting
crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself to--" He took
two swift steps to the whip, but before he could grasp it there was
a wild clatter of steps upon the stairs, the heavy hall door
banged, and from the window we could see Mr. James Windibank
running at the top of his speed down the road.
"There's a cold-blooded scoundrel!" said Holmes, laughing as he
threw himself down into his chair once more. "That fellow will
rise from crime to crime until he does something very bad and ends
on a gallows. The case has, in some respects, been not entirely
devoid of interest."
"I cannot now entirely see all the steps of your reasoning," I
"Well, of course it was obvious from the first that this Mr. Hosmer
Angel must have some strong object for his curious conduct, and it
was equally clear that the only man who really profited by the
incident, as far as we could see, was the stepfather. Then the
fact that the two men were never together, but that the one always
appeared when the other was away, was suggestive. So were the
tinted spectacles and the curious voice, which both hinted at a
disguise, as did the bushy whiskers. My suspicions were all
confirmed by his peculiar action in typewriting his signature,
which, of course, inferred that his handwriting was so familiar to
her that she would recognize even the smallest sample of it. You
see all these isolated facts, together with many minor ones, all
pointed in the same direction."
"And how did you verify them?"
"Having once spotted my man, it was easy to get corroboration. I
knew the firm for which this man worked. Having taken the printed
description, I eliminated everything from it which could be the
result of a disguise,--the whiskers, the glasses, the voice,--and I
sent it to the firm with a request that they would inform me
whether it answered to the description of any of their travelers.
I had already noticed the peculiarities of the typewriter, and I
wrote to the man himself at his business address, asking him if he
would come here. As I expected, his reply was typewritten, and
revealed the same trivial but characteristic defects. The same
post brought me a letter from Westhouse & Marbank, of Fenchurch
Street, to say that the description tallied in every respect with
that of their employee, James Windibank. Voila tout!"
"And Miss Sutherland?"
"If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old
Persian saying, 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub,
and danger also for whoso snatcheth a delusion from a woman.'
There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge
of the world."
A Scandal in Bohemia
To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard
him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and
predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any
emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one
particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably
balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and
observing machine that the world has seen; but as a lover, he would
have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the
softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable
things for the observer--excellent for drawing the veil from men's
motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such
intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament
was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt
upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a
crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more
disturbing that a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet
there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene
Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us
away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-
centered interests which rise up around the man who first finds
himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb
all my attention; while Holmes, who loathed every form of society
with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker
Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to
week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug and
the fierce energy of his own keen nature. He was still, as ever,
deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense
faculties and extraordinary powers of observation in following out
those clews, and clearing up those mysteries, which had been
abandoned as hopeless by the official police. From time to time I
heard some vague account of his doings; of his summons to Odessa in
the case of the Trepoff murder, of his clearing up of the singular
tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, and finally of the
mission which he had accomplished so delicately and successfully
for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond these signs of his
activity, however, which I merely shared with all the readers of
the daily press, I knew little of my former friend and companion.
One night--it was on the 20th of March, 1888--I was returning from
a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice),
when my way led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-
remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my
wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was
seized with a keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he
was employing his extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly
lighted, and even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass
twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. He was pacing the
room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest, and his
hands clasped behind him. To me, who knew his every mood and
habit, his attitude and manner told their own story. He was at
work again. He had risen out of his drug-created dreams, and was
hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang the bell, and was
shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own.
His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I
think, to see me. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly
eye, he waved me to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars,
and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner. Then he
stood before the fire, and looked me over in his singular
"Wedlock suits you," he remarked. "I think, Watson, that you have
put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you."
"Seven," I answered.
"Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more,
I fancy, Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not
tell me that you intended to go into harness."
"Then how do you know?"
"I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting
yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and
careless servant girl?"
"My dear Holmes," said I, "this is too much. You would certainly
have been burned had you lived a few centuries ago. It is true
that I had a country walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful
mess; but as I have changed my clothes, I can't imagine how you
deduce it. As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has
given her notice; but there again I fail to see how you work it
He chuckled to himself and rubbed his long nervous hands together.
"It is simplicity itself," said he, "my eyes tell me that on the
inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the
leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have
been caused by some one who has very carelessly scraped round the
edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence,
you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather,
and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slicking specimen of
the London slavey. As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into
my rooms, smelling of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of
silver upon his right forefinger, and a bulge on the side of his
top hat to show where he has secreted his stethoscope, I must be
dull indeed if I do not pronounce him to be an active member of the
I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his
process of deduction. "When I hear you give your reasons," I
remarked, "the thing always appears to me so ridiculously simple
that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive
instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your
process. And yet, I believe that my eyes are as good as yours."
"Quite so," he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself
down into an armchair. "You see, but you do not observe. The
distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the
steps which lead up from the hall to this room."
"Well, some hundreds of times."
"Then how many are there?"
"How many? I don't know."
"Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is
just my point. Now, I know there are seventeen steps, because I
have both seen and observed. By the way, since you are interested
in these little problems, and since you are good enough to
chronicle one or two of my trifling experiences, you may be
interested in this." He threw over a sheet of thick pink-tinted
note paper which had been lying open upon the table. "It came by
the last post," said he. "Read it aloud."
The note was undated, and without either signature or address.
"There will call upon you to-night, at a quarter to eight o'clock,"
it said, "a gentleman who desires to consult you upon a matter of
the very deepest moment. Your recent services to one of the royal
houses of Europe have shown that you are one who may safely be
trusted with matters which are of an importance which can hardly be
exaggerated. This account of you we have from all quarters
received. Be in your chamber, then, at that hour, and do not take
it amiss if your visitor wears a mask."
"This is indeed a mystery," I remarked. "What do you imagine that
"I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before
one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit
theories, instead of theories to suit facts. But the note itself--
what do you deduce from it?"
I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it was
"The man who wrote it was presumably well to do," I remarked,
endeavoring to imitate my companion's processes. "Such paper could
not be bought under half a crown a packet. It is peculiarly strong
"Peculiar--that is the very word," said Holmes. "It is not an
English paper at all. Hold it up to the light."
I did so, and saw a large E with a small g, a P and a large G with
a small t woven into the texture of the paper.
"What do you make of that?" asked Holmes.
"The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather."
"Not all. The G with the small t stands for 'Gesellschaft,' which
is the German for 'Company.' It is a customary contraction like
our 'Co.' P, of course, stands for 'Papier.' Now for the Eg. Let
us glance at our 'Continental Gazetteer." He took down a heavy
brown volume from his shelves. "Eglow, Eglonitz--here we are,
Egria. It is in a German-speaking country--in Bohemia, not far
from Carlsbad. 'Remarkable as being the scene of the death of
Wallenstein, and for its numerous glass factories and paper mills.'
Ha! ha! my boy, what do you make of that?" His eyes sparkled, and
he sent up a great blue triumphant cloud from his cigarette.
"The paper was made in Bohemia," I said.
"Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you
note the peculiar construction of the sentence--'This account of
you we have from all quarters received'? A Frenchman or Russian
could not have written that. It is the German who is so
uncourteous to his verbs. It only remains, therefore, to discover
what is wanted by this German who writes upon Bohemian paper, and
prefers wearing a mask to showing his face. And here he comes, if
I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts."
As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses' hoofs and grating
wheels against the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell.
"A pair, by the sound," said he. "Yes," he continued, glancing out
of the window. "A nice little brougham and a pair of beauties. A
hundred and fifty guineas apiece. There's money in this case,
Watson, if there is nothing else."
"I think I had better go, Holmes."
"Not a bit, doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my
Boswell. And this promises to be interesting. It would be a pity
to miss it."
"But your client--"
"Never mind him. I may want your help, and so may he. Here he
comes. Sit down in that armchair, doctor, and give us your best
A slow and heavy step, which had been heard upon the stairs and in
the passage, paused immediately outside the door. Then there was a
loud and authoritative tap.
"Come in!" said Holmes.
A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six
inches in height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His
dress was rich with a richness which would, in England, be looked
upon as akin to bad taste. Heavy bands of astrakhan were slashed
across the sleeves and front of his double-breasted coat, while the
deep blue cloak which was thrown over his shoulders was lined with
flame-colored silk, and secured at the neck with a brooch which
consisted of a single flaming beryl. Boots which extended halfway
up his calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich brown
fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence which was
suggested by his whole appearance. He carried a broad-brimmed hat
in his hand, while he wore across the upper part of his face,
extending down past the cheek-bones, a black visard mask, which he
had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand was still
raised to it as he entered. From the lower part of the face he
appeared to be a man of strong character, with a thick, hanging
lip, and a long, straight chin, suggestive of resolution pushed to
the length of obstinacy.
"You had my note?" he asked, with a deep, harsh voice and a
strongly marked German accent. "I told you that I would call." He
looked from one to the other of us, as if uncertain which to
"Pray take a seat," said Holmes. "This is my friend and colleague,
Doctor Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my
cases. Whom have I the honor to address?"
"You may address me as the Count von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. I
understand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honor and
discretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most extreme
importance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate with you
I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back
into my chair. "It is both, or none," said he. "You may say
before this gentleman anything which you may say to me."
The count shrugged his broad shoulders. "Then I must begin," said
he, "by binding you both to absolute secrecy for two years; at the
end of that time the matter will be of no importance. At present
it is not too much to say that it is of such weight that it may
have an influence upon European history."
"I promise," said Holmes.
"You will excuse this mask," continued our strange visitor. "The
august person who employs me wishes his agent to be unknown to you,
and I may confess at once that the title by which I have just
called myself is not exactly my own."
"I was aware of it," said Holmes, dryly.
"The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has
to be taken to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal, and
seriously compromise one of the reigning families of Europe. To
speak plainly, the matter implicates the great House of Ormstein,
hereditary kings of Bohemia."
"I was also aware of that," murmured Holmes, settling himself down
in his armchair, and closing his eyes.
Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid,
lounging figure of the man who had been, no doubt, depicted to him
as the most incisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe.
Holmes slowly reopened his eyes and looked impatiently at his
"If your majesty would condescend to state your case," he remarked,
"I should be better able to advise you."
The man sprung from his chair, and paced up and down the room in
uncontrollable agitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, he
tore the mask from his face and hurled it upon the ground.
"You are right," he cried, "I am the king. Why should I attempt to
"Why, indeed?" murmured Holmes. "Your majesty had not spoken
before I was aware that I was addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich
Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and
hereditary King of Bohemia."
"But you can understand," said our strange visitor, sitting down
once more and passing his hand over his high, white forehead, "you
can understand that I am not accustomed to doing such business in
my own person. Yet the matter was so delicate that I could not
confide it to an agent without putting myself in his power. I have
come incognito from Prague for the purpose of consulting you."
"Then, pray consult," said Holmes, shutting his eyes once more.
"The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy
visit to Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the well-known
adventuress Irene Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you."
"Kindly look her up in my index, doctor," murmured Holmes, without
opening his eyes. For many years he had adopted a system for
docketing all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was
difficult to name a subject or a person on which he could not at
once furnish information. In this case I found her biography
sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a staff
commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea fishes.
"Let me see!" said Holmes. "Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year
1858. Contralto--hum! La Scala--hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera
of Warsaw--yes! Retired from operatic stage--ha! Living in
London--quite so! Your majesty, as I understand, became entangled
with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is
now desirous of getting those letters back."
"Precisely so. But how--"
"Was there a secret marriage?"
"No legal papers or certificates?"
"Then I fail to follow your majesty. If this young person should
produce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she
to prove their authenticity?"
"There is the writing."
"My private note paper."
"My own seal."
"We were both in the photograph."
"Oh, dear! That is very bad. Your majesty has indeed committed an
"I was mad--insane."
"You have compromised yourself seriously."
"I was only crown prince then. I was young. I am but thirty now."
"It must be recovered."
"We have tried and failed."
"Your majesty must pay. It must be bought."
"She will not sell."
"Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked
her house. Once we diverted her luggage when she traveled. Twice
she has been waylaid. There has been no result."
"No sign of it?"
Holmes laughed. "It is quite a pretty little problem," said he.
"But a very serious one to me," returned the king, reproachfully.
"Very, indeed. And what does she propose to do with the
"To ruin me."
"I am about to be married."
"So I have heard."
"To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meiningen, second daughter of the
King of Scandinavia. You may know the strict principles of her
family. She is herself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a
doubt as to my conduct would bring the matter to an end."
"And Irene Adler?"
"Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I
know that she will do it. You do not know her, but she has a soul
of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women and the
mind of the most resolute of men. Rather than I should marry
another woman, there are no lengths to which she would not go--
"You are sure she has not sent it yet?"
"I am sure."
"Because she has said that she would send it on the day when the
betrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday."
"Oh, then we have three days yet," said Holmes, with a yawn. "That
is very fortunate, as I have one or two matters of importance to
look into just at present. Your majesty will, of course, stay in
London for the present?"
"Certainly. You will find me at the Langham, under the name of the
Count von Kramm."
"Then I shall drop you a line to let you know how we progress."
"Pray do so; I shall be all anxiety."
"Then, as to money?"
"You have carte blanche."
"I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to
have that photograph."
"And for present expenses?"
The king took a heavy chamois-leather bag from under his cloak, and
laid it on the table.
"There are three hundred pounds in gold, and seven hundred in
notes," he said.
Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his notebook, and handed
it to him.
"And mademoiselle's address?" he asked.
"Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John's Wood."
Holmes took a note of it. "One other question," said he,
thoughtfully. "Was the photograph a cabinet?"
"Then, good-night, your majesty, and I trust that we shall soon
have some good news for you. And good-night, Watson," he added, as
the wheels of the royal brougham rolled down the street. "If you
will be good enough to call to-morrow afternoon, at three o'clock,
I should like to chat this little matter over with you."
At three o'clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had
not yet returned. The landlady informed me that he had left the
house shortly after eight o'clock in the morning. I sat down
beside the fire, however, with the intention of awaiting him,
however long he might be. I was already deeply interested in his
inquiry, for, though it was surrounded by none of the grim and
strange features which were associated with the two crimes which I
have already recorded, still, the nature of the case and the
exalted station of his client gave it a character of its own.
Indeed, apart from the nature of the investigation which my friend
had on hand, there was something in his masterly grasp of a
situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, which made it a
pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the
quick, subtle methods by which he disentangled the most
inextricable mysteries. So accustomed was I to his invariable
success that the very possibility of his failing had ceased to
enter into my head.
It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-
looking groom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face
and disreputable clothes, walked into the room. Accustomed as I
was to my friend's amazing powers in the use of disguises, I had to
look three times before I was certain that it was indeed he. With
a nod he vanished into the bedroom, whence he emerged in five
minutes tweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting his hands
into his pockets, he stretched out his legs in front of the fire,
and laughed heartily for some minutes.
"Well, really!" he cried, and then he choked, and laughed again
until he was obliged to lie back, limp and helpless, in the chair.
"What is it?"
"It's quite too funny. I am sure you could never guess how I
employed my morning, or what I ended by doing."
"I can't imagine. I suppose that you have been watching the
habits, and, perhaps, the house, of Miss Irene Adler."
"Quite so, but the sequel was rather unusual. I will tell you,
however. I left the house a little after eight o'clock this
morning in the character of a groom out of work. There is a
wonderful sympathy and freemasonry among horsey men. Be one of
them, and you will know all that there is to know. I soon found
Briony Lodge. It is a bijou villa, with a garden at the back, but
built out in the front right up to the road, two stories. Chubb
lock to the door. Large sitting room on the right side, well
furnished, with long windows almost to the floor, and those
preposterous English window fasteners which a child could open.
Behind there was nothing remarkable, save that the passage window
could be reached from the top of the coach-house. I walked round
it and examined it closely from every point of view, but without
noting anything else of interest.
"I then lounged down the street, and found, as I expected, that
there was a mews in a lane which runs down by one wall of the
garden. I lent the hostlers a hand in rubbing down their horses,
and I received in exchange two-pence, a glass of half and half, two
fills of shag tobacco, and as much information as I could desire
about Miss Adler, to say nothing of half a dozen other people in
the neighborhood, in whom I was not in the least interested, but
whose biographies I was compelled to listen to."
"And what of Irene Adler?" I asked.
"Oh, she has turned all the men's heads down in that part. She is
the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet. So say the
Serpentine Mews, to a man. She lives quietly, sings at concerts,
drives out at five every day, and returns at seven sharp for
dinner. Seldom goes out at other times, except when she sings.
Has only one male visitor, but a good deal of him. He is dark,
handsome, and dashing; never calls less than once a day, and often
twice. He is a Mr. Godfrey Norton of the Inner Temple. See the
advantages of a cabman as a confidant. They had driven him home a
dozen times from Serpentine Mews, and knew all about him. When I
had listened to all that they had to tell, I began to walk up and
down near Briony Lodge once more, and to think over my plan of
"This Godfrey Norton was evidently an important factor in the
matter. He was a lawyer. That sounded ominous. What was the
relation between them, and what the object of his repeated visits?
Was she his client, his friend, or his mistress? If the former,
she had probably transferred the photograph to his keeping. If the
latter, it was less likely. On the issue of this question depended
whether I should continue my work at Briony Lodge, or turn my
attention to the gentleman's chambers in the Temple. It was a
delicate point, and it widened the field of my inquiry. I fear
that I bore you with these details, but I have to let you see my
little difficulties, if you are to understand the situation."
"I am following you closely," I answered.
"I was still balancing the matter in my mind, when a hansom cab
drove up to Briony Lodge, and a gentleman sprung out. He was a
remarkably handsome man, dark, aquiline, and mustached--evidently
the man of whom I had heard. He appeared to be in a great hurry,
shouted to the cabman to wait, and brushed past the maid who opened
the door, with the air of a man who was thoroughly at home.
"He was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses
of him in the windows of the sitting room, pacing up and down,
talking excitedly and waving his arms. Of her I could see nothing.
Presently he emerged, looking even more flurried than before. As
he stepped up to the cab, he pulled a gold watch from his pocket
and looked at it earnestly. 'Drive like the devil!' he shouted,
'first to Gross & Hankey's in Regent Street, and then to the Church
of St. Monica in the Edgeware Road. Half a guinea if you do it in
"Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do
well to follow them, when up the lane came a neat little landau,
the coachman with his coat only half buttoned, and his tie under
his ear, while all the tags of his harness were sticking out of the
buckles. It hadn't pulled up before she shot out of the hall door
and into it. I only caught a glimpse of her at the moment, but she
was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for.
"'The Church of St. Monica, John,' she cried; 'and half a sovereign
if you reach it in twenty minutes.'
"This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing
whether I should run for it, or whether I should perch behind her
landau, when a cab came through the street. The driver looked
twice at such a shabby fare; but I jumped in before he could
object. 'The Church of St. Monica,' said I, 'and half a sovereign
if you reach it in twenty minutes.' It was twenty-five minutes to
twelve, and of course it was clear enough what was in the wind.
"My cabby drove fast. I don't think I ever drove faster, but the
others were there before us. The cab and landau with their
steaming horses were in front of the door when I arrived. I paid
the man, and hurried into the church. There was not a soul there
save the two whom I had followed, and a surpliced clergyman, who
seemed to be expostulating with them. They were all three standing
in a knot in front of the altar. I lounged up the side aisle like
any other idler who has dropped into a church. Suddenly, to my
surprise, the three at the altar faced round to me, and Godfrey
Norton came running as hard as he could toward me.
"'Thank God!' he cried. 'You'll do. Come! Come!'
"'What then?' I asked.
"'Come, man, come; only three minutes, or it won't be legal.'
"I was half dragged up to the altar, and, before I knew where I
was, I found myself mumbling responses which were whispered in my
ear, and vouching for things of which I knew nothing, and generally
assisting in the secure tying up of Irene Adler, spinster, to
Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and there
was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and the lady on the
other, while the clergyman beamed on me in front. It was the most
preposterous position in which I ever found myself in my life, and
it was the thought of it that started me laughing just now. It
seems that there had been some informality about their license;
that the clergyman absolutely refused to marry them without a
witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved the
bridegroom from having to sally out into the streets in search of a
best man. The bride gave me a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on
my watch chain in memory of the occasion."
"This is a very unexpected turn of affairs," said I; "and what
"Well, I found my plans very seriously menaced. It looked as if
the pair might take an immediate departure, and so necessitate very
prompt and energetic measures on my part. At the church door,
however, they separated, he driving back to the Temple, and she to
her own house. 'I shall drive out in the park at five as usual,'
she said, as she left him. I heard no more. They drove away in
different directions, and I went off to make my own arrangements."
"Some cold beef and a glass of beer," he answered, ringing the
bell. "I have been too busy to think of food, and I am likely to
be busier still this evening. By the way, doctor, I shall want
"I shall be delighted."
"You don't mind breaking the law?"
"Not in the least."
"Nor running a chance of arrest?"
"Not in a good cause."
"Oh, the cause is excellent!"
"Then I am your man."
"I was sure that I might rely on you."
"But what is it you wish?"
"When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to
you. Now," he said, as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that
our landlady had provided, "I must discuss it while I eat, for I
have not much time. It is nearly five now. In two hours we must
be on the scene of action. Miss Irene, or Madame, rather, returns
from her drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet her."
"And what then?"
"You must leave that to me. I have already arranged what is to
occur. There is only one point on which I must insist. You must
not interfere, come what may. You understand?"
"I am to be neutral?"
"To do nothing whatever. There will probably be some small
unpleasantness. Do not join in it. It will end in my being
conveyed into the house. Four or five minutes afterwards the
sitting-room window will open. You are to station yourself close
to that open window."
"You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you."
"And when I raise my hand--so--you will throw into the room what I
give you to throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry of
fire. You quite follow me?"
"It is nothing very formidable," he said, taking a long, cigar-
shaped roll from his pocket. "It is an ordinary plumber's smoke-
rocket, fitted with a cap at either end, to make it self-lighting.
Your task is confined to that. When you raise your cry of fire, it
will be taken up by quite a number of people. You may then walk to
the end of the street, and I will rejoin you in ten minutes. I
hope that I have made myself clear?"
"I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and,
at the signal, to throw in this object, then to raise the cry of
fire and to wait you at the corner of the street."
"Then you may entirely rely on me."
"That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it is almost time that I
prepared for the new role I have to play."
He disappeared into his bedroom, and returned in a few minutes in
the character of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist
clergyman. His broad, black hat, his baggy trousers, his white
tie, his sympathetic smile, and general look of peering and
benevolent curiosity were such as Mr. John Hare alone could have
equaled. It was not merely that Holmes changed his costume. His
expression, his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every
fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even as
science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in
It was a quarter past six when we left Baker Street, and it still
wanted ten minutes to the hour when we found ourselves in
Serpentine Avenue. It was already dusk, and the lamps were just
being lighted as we paced up and down in front of Briony Lodge,
waiting for the coming of its occupant. The house was just such as
I had pictured it from Sherlock Holmes's succinct description, but
the locality appeared to be less private than I expected. On the
contrary, for a small street in a quiet neighborhood, it was
remarkably animated. There was a group of shabbily dressed men
smoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors grinder with his
wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting with a nurse girl, and
several well-dressed young men who were lounging up and down with
cigars in their mouths.
"You see," remarked Holmes, as we paced to and fro in front of the
house, "this marriage rather simplifies matters. The photograph
becomes a double-edged weapon now. The chances are that she would
be as averse to its being seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton as our client
is to its coming to the eyes of his princess. Now the question is--
where are we to find the photograph?"
"It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is
cabinet size. Too large for easy concealment about a woman's
dress. She knows that the king is capable of having her waylaid
and searched. Two attempts of the sort have already been made. We
may take it, then, that she does not carry it about with her."
"Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But
I am inclined to think neither. Women are naturally secretive, and
they like to do their own secreting. Why should she hand it over
to anyone else? She could trust her own guardianship, but she
could not tell what indirect or political influence might be
brought to bear upon a business man. Besides, remember that she
had resolved to use it within a few days. It must be where she can
lay her hands upon it. It must be in her own house."
"But it has twice been burglarized."
"Pshaw! They did not know how to look."
"But how will you look?"
"I will not look."
"I will get her to show me."
"But she will refuse."
"She will not be able to. But I hear the rumble of wheels. It is
her carriage. Now carry out my orders to the letter."
As he spoke, the gleam of the sidelights of a carriage came round
the curve of the avenue. It was a smart little landau which
rattled up to the door of Briony Lodge. As it pulled up one of the
loafing men at the corner dashed forward to open the door in the
hope of earning a copper, but was elbowed away by another loafer
who had rushed up with the same intention. A fierce quarrel broke
out which was increased by the two guardsmen, who took sides with
one of the loungers, and by the scissors grinder, who was equally
hot upon the other side. A blow was struck, and in an instant the
lady, who had stepped from her carriage, was the center of a little
knot of struggling men who struck savagely at each other with their
fists and sticks. Holmes dashed into the crowd to protect the
lady; but, just as he reached her, he gave a cry and dropped to the
ground, with the blood running freely down his face. At his fall
the guardsmen took to their heels in one direction and the loungers
in the other, while a number of better-dressed people who had
watched the scuffle without taking part in it crowded in to help
the lady and to attend to the injured man. Irene Adler, as I will
still call her, had hurried up the steps; but she stood at the top,
with her superb figure outlined against the lights of the ball,
looking back into the street.
"Is the poor gentleman much hurt?" she asked.
"He is dead," cried several voices.
"No, no, there's life in him," shouted another. "But he'll be gone
before you can get him to the hospital."
"He's a brave fellow," said a woman. "They would have had the
lady's purse and watch if it hadn't been for him. They were a
gang, and a rough one, too. Ah! he's breathing now."
"He can't lie in the street. May we bring him in, marm?"
"Surely. Bring him into the sitting room. There is a comfortable
sofa. This way, please." Slowly and solemnly he was borne into
Briony Lodge, and laid out in the principal room, while I still
observed the proceedings from my post by the window. The lamps had
been lighted, but the blinds had not been drawn, so that I could
see Holmes as he lay upon the couch. I do not know whether he was
seized with compunction at that moment for the part he was playing,
but I know that I never felt more heartily ashamed of myself in my
life than when I saw the beautiful creature against whom I was
conspiring, or the grace and kindliness with which she waited upon
the injured man. And yet it would be the blackest treachery to
Holmes to draw back now from the part which he had intrusted to me.
I hardened my heart, and took the smoke-rocket from under my
ulster. After all, I thought, we are not injuring her. We are but
preventing her from injuring another.
Holmes had sat upon the couch, and I saw him motion like a man who
is in need of air. A maid rushed across and threw open the window.
At the same instant I saw him raise his hand, and at the signal I
tossed my rocket into the room with a cry of "Fire!" The word was
no sooner out of my mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well
dressed and ill--gentlemen, hostlers, and servant maids--joined in
a general shriek of "Fire!" Thick clouds of smoke curled through
the room, and out at the open window. I caught a glimpse of
rushing figures, and a moment later the voice of Holmes from within
assuring them that it was a false alarm. Slipping through the
shouting crowd, I made my way to the corner of the street, and in
ten minutes was rejoiced to find my friend's arm in mine, and to
get away from the scene of uproar. He walked swiftly and in
silence for some few minutes, until we had turned down one of the
quiet streets which led toward the Edgeware Road.
"You did it very nicely, doctor," he remarked. "Nothing could have
been better. It is all right."
"You have the photograph?"
"I know where it is."
"And how did you find out?"
"She showed me, as I told you that she would."
"I am still in the dark."
"I do not wish to make a mystery," said he, laughing. "The matter
was perfectly simple. You, of course, saw that everyone in the
street was an accomplice. They were all engaged for the evening."
"I guessed as much."
"Then, when the row broke out, I had a little moist red paint in
the palm of my hand. I rushed forward, fell down, clapped my hand
to my face, and became a piteous spectacle. It is an old trick."
"That also I could fathom."
"Then they carried me in. She was bound to have me in. What else
could she do? And into her sitting room, which was the very room
which I suspected. It lay between that and her bedroom, and I was
determined to see which. They laid me on a couch, I motioned for
air, they were compelled to open the window, and you had your
"How did that help you?"
"It was all-important. When a woman thinks that her house is on
fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values
most. It is a perfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than
once taken advantage of it. In the case of the Darlington
Substitution Scandal it was of use to me, and also in the Arnsworth
Castle business. A married woman grabs at her baby--an unmarried
one reaches for her jewel box. Now it was clear to me that our
lady of to-day had nothing in the house more precious to her than
what we are in quest of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm
of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting were enough to
shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully. The photograph
is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell-
pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as
she drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, she
replaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I
have not seen her since. I rose, and, making my excuses, escaped
from the house. I hesitated whether to attempt to secure the
photograph at once; but the coachman had come in, and as he was
watching me narrowly, it seemed safer to wait. A little over-
precipitance may ruin all."
"And now?" I asked.
"Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the king to-
morrow, and with you, if you care to come with us. We will be
shown into the sitting room to wait for the lady, but it is
probable that when she comes she may find neither us nor the
photograph. It might be a satisfaction to his majesty to regain it
with his own hands."
"And when will you call?"
"At eight in the morning. She will not be up, so that we shall
have a clear field. Besides, we must be prompt, for this marriage
may mean a complete change in her life and habits. I must wire to
the king without delay."
We had reached Baker Street, and had stopped at the door. He was
searching his pockets for the key, when some one passing said:
"Good night, Mister Sherlock Holmes."
There were several people on the pavement at the time, but the
greeting appeared to come from a slim youth in an ulster who had
"I've heard that voice before," said Holmes, staring down the dimly
lighted street. "Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have
I slept at Baker Street that night, and we were engaged upon our
toast and coffee in the morning, when the King of Bohemia rushed
into the room.
"You have really got it?" he cried, grasping Sherlock Holmes by
either shoulder, and looking eagerly into his face.
"But you have hopes?"
"I have hopes."
"Then come. I am all impatience to be gone."
"We must have a cab."
"No, my brougham is waiting."
"Then that will simplify matters." We descended, and started off
once more for Briony Lodge.
"Irene Adler is married," remarked Holmes.
"But to whom?"
"To an English lawyer named Norton."
"But she could not love him."
"I am in hopes that she does."
"And why in hopes?"
"Because it would spare your majesty all fear of future annoyance.
If the lady loves her husband, she does not love your majesty. If
she does not love your majesty, there is no reason why she should
interfere with your majesty's plan."
"It is true. And yet-- Well, I wish she had been of my own
station. What a queen she would have made!" He relapsed into a
moody silence, which was not broken until we drew up in Serpentine
The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon
the steps. She watched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from
"Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I believe?" said she.
"I am Mr. Holmes," answered my companion, looking at her with a
questioning and rather startled gaze.
"Indeed! My mistress told me that you were likely to call. She
left this morning, with her husband, by the 5:15 train from Charing
Cross, for the Continent."
"What!" Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and
"Do you mean that she has left England?"
"Never to return."
"And the papers?" asked the king hoarsely. "All is lost!"
"We shall see." He pushed past the servant, and rushed into the
drawing-room, followed by the king and myself. The furniture was
scattered about in every direction, with dismantled shelves, and
open drawers, as if the lady had hurriedly ransacked them before
her flight. Holmes rushed at the bell-pull, tore back a small
sliding shutter, and plunging in his hand, pulled out a photograph
and a letter. The photograph was of Irene Adler herself in evening
dress; the letter was superscribed to "Sherlock Holmes, Esq. To be
left till called for." My friend tore it open, and we all three
read it together. It was dated at midnight of the preceding night,
and ran in this way:
"MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,--You really did it very well. You
took me in completely. Until after the alarm of the fire, I had
not a suspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself,
I began to think. I had been warned against you months ago. I had
been told that if the king employed an agent, it would certainly be
you. And your address had been given me. Yet, with all this, you
made me reveal what you wanted to know. Even after I became
suspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear, kind old
clergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actress
myself. Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage
of the freedom which it gives. I sent John, the coachman, to watch
you, ran upstairs, got into my walking clothes, as I call them, and
came down just as you departed.
"Well, I followed you to the door, and so made sure that I was
really an object of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good night, and started for
the Temple to see my husband.
"We both thought the best resource was flight when pursued by so
formidable an antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you
call to-morrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest in
peace. I love and am loved by a better man than he. The king may
do what he will without hindrance from one whom he has cruelly
wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and preserve a weapon
which will always secure me from any steps which he might take in
the future. I leave a photograph which he might care to possess;
and I remain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes, very truly yours,
"IRENE NORTON, nee ADLER."
"What a woman--oh, what a woman!" cried the King of Bohemia, when
we had all three read this epistle. "Did I not tell you how quick
and resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen?
Is it not a pity that she was not on my level?"
"From what I have seen of the lady, she seems indeed to be on a
very different level to your majesty," said Holmes coldly. "I am
sorry that I have not been able to bring your majesty's business to
a more successful conclusion."
"On the contrary, my dear sir," cried the king, "nothing could be
more successful. I know that her word is inviolate. The
photograph is now as safe as if it were in the fire."
"I am glad to hear your majesty say so."
"I am immensely indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can
reward you. This ring--" He slipped an emerald snake ring from
his finger, and held it out upon the palm of his hand.
"Your majesty has something which I should value even more highly,"
"You have but to name it."
The king stared at him in amazement.
"Irene's photograph!" he cried. "Certainly, if you wish it."
"I thank your majesty. Then there is no more to be done in the
matter. I have the honor to wish you a very good morning." He
bowed, and turning away without observing the hand which the king
had stretched out to him, he set off in my company for his
And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom
of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were
beaten by a woman's wit. He used to make merry over the cleverness
of women, but I have not heard him do it of late. And when he
speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph, it is
always under the honorable title of THE woman.
The Red-Headed League
I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the
autumn of last year, and found him in deep conversation with a very
stout, florid-faced elderly gentleman, with fiery red hair. With
an apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw, when Holmes
pulled me abruptly into the room and closed the door behind me.
"You could not possibly have come at a better time, my dear
Watson," he said, cordially.
"I was afraid that you were engaged."
"So I am. Very much so."
"Then I can wait in the next room."
"Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and
helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt
that he will be of the utmost use to me in yours also."
The stout gentleman half rose from his chair and gave a bob of
greeting, with a quick little questioning glance from his small,
"Try the settee," said Holmes, relapsing into his armchair, and
putting his finger tips together, as was his custom when in
judicial moods. "I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of
all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine
of everyday life. You have shown your relish for it by the
enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle, and, if you will
excuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish so many of my own little
"Your cases have indeed been of the greatest interest to me," I
"You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we
went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary
Sutherland, that for strange effects and extraordinary combinations
we must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any
effort of the imagination."
"A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting."
"You did, doctor, but none the less you must come round to my view,
for otherwise I shall keep on piling fact upon fact on you, until
your reason breaks down under them and acknowledge me to be right.
Now, Mr. Jabez Wilson here has been good enough to call upon me
this morning, and to begin a narrative which promises to be one of
the most singular which I have listened to for some time. You have
heard me remark that the strangest and most unique things are very
often connected not with the larger but with the smaller crimes,
and occasionally, indeed, where there is room for doubt whether any
positive crime has been committed. As far as I have heard, it is
impossible for me to say whether the present case is an instance of
crime or not, but the course of events is certainly among the most
singular that I have ever listened to. Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, you
would have the great kindness to recommence your narrative. I ask
you, not merely because my friend, Dr. Watson, has not heard the
opening part, but also because the peculiar nature of the story
makes me anxious to have every possible detail from your lips. As
a rule, when I have heard some slight indication of the course of
events I am able to guide myself by the thousands of other similar
cases which occur to my memory. In the present instance I am
forced to admit that the facts are, to the best of my belief,
The portly client puffed out his chest with an appearance of some
little pride, and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the
inside pocket of his greatcoat. As he glanced down the
advertisement column, with his head thrust forward, and the paper
flattened out upon his knee, I took a good look at the man, and
endeavored, after the fashion of my companion, to read the
indications which might be presented by his dress or appearance.
I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor
bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman,
obese, pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy gray shepherd's
check trousers, a not over-clean black frock coat, unbuttoned in
the front, and a drab waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain,
and a square pierced bit of metal dangling down as an ornament. A
frayed top hat and a faded brown overcoat with a wrinkled velvet
collar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as I would,
there was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red
head and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon his
Sherlock Holmes's quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his
head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. "Beyond
the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labor, that
he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China,
and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can
deduce nothing else."
Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon
the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.
How, in the name of good fortune, did you know all that, Mr.
Holmes?" he asked. "How did you know, for example, that I did
manual labor? It's as true as gospel, for I began as a ship's
"Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger
than your left. You have worked with it and the muscles are more
"Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?"
"I won't insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that,
especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you
use an arc and compass breastpin."
"Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?"
"What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for
five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow
where you rest it upon the desk."
"Well, but China?"
"The fish which you have tattooed immediately above your wrist
could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of
tattoo marks, and have even contributed to the literature of the
subject. That trick of staining the fishes' scales of a delicate
pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a
Chinese coin hanging from your watch chain, the matter becomes even
Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. "Well, I never!" said he. "I
thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that
there was nothing in it after all."
"I begin to think, Watson," said Holmes, "that I make a mistake in
explaining. 'Omne ignotom pro magnifico,' you know, and my poor
little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so
candid. Can you not find the advertisement, Mr. Wilson?"
"Yes, I have got it now," he answered, with his thick, red finger
planted halfway down the column. "Here it is. This is what began
it all. You just read it for yourself, sir."
I took the paper from him and read as follows:
"TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late
Ezekiah Hopkins, of Lebanon, Pa., U. S. A., there is now another
vacancy open which entitles a member of the League to a salary of
four pounds a week for purely nominal services. All red-headed men
who are sound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one
years are eligible. Apply in person on Monday, at eleven o'clock,
to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League, 7 Pope's Court, Fleet
"What on earth does this mean?" I ejaculated, after I had twice
read over the extraordinary announcement.
Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in
high spirits. "It is a little off the beaten track, isn't it?"
said he. "And now, Mr. Wilson, off you go at scratch, and tell us
all about yourself, your household, and the effect which this
advertisement had upon your fortunes. You will first make a note,
doctor, of the paper and the date."
"It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two months
"Very good. Now, Mr. Wilson."
"Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,"
said Jabez Wilson, mopping his forehead, "I have a small
pawnbroker's business at Saxe-Coburg Square, near the City. It's
not a very large affair, and of late years it has not done more
than just give me a living. I used to be able to keep two
assistants, but now I only keep one; and I would have a job to pay
him but that he is willing to come for half wages, so as to learn
"What is the name of this obliging youth?" asked Sherlock Holmes.
"His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he's not such a youth either.
It's hard to say his age. I should not wish a smarter assistant,
Mr. Holmes; and I know very well that he could better himself, and
earn twice what I am able to give him. But, after all, if he is
satisfied, why should I put ideas in his head?"
"Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an employee who
comes under the full market price. It is not a common experience
among employers in this age. I don't know that your assistant is
not as remarkable as your advertisement."
"Oh, he has his faults, too," said Mr. Wilson. "Never was such a
fellow for photography. Snapping away with a camera when he ought
to be improving his mind, and then diving down into the cellar like
a rabbit into its hole to develop his pictures. That is his main
fault; but, on the whole, he's a good worker. There's no vice in
"He is still with you, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who does a bit of simple
cooking, and keeps the place clean--that's all I have in the house,
for I am a widower, and never had any family. We live very
quietly, sir, the three of us; and we keep a roof over our heads,
and pay our debts, if we do nothing more.
"The first thing that put us out was that advertisement.
Spaulding, he came down into the office just this day eight weeks,
with this very paper in his hand, and he says:
"'I wish to the Lord, Mr. Wilson, that I was a redheaded man.'
"'Why that?' I asks.
"'Why,' says he, 'here's another vacancy on the League of the Red-
headed Men. It's worth quite a little fortune to any man who gets
it, and I understand that there are more vacancies than there are
men, so that the trustees are at their wits' end what to do with
the money. If my hair would only change color here's a nice little
crib all ready for me to step into.'
"'Why, what is it, then?' I asked. You see, Mr. Holmes, I am a
very stay-at-home man, and, as my business came to me instead of my
having to go to it, I was often weeks on end without putting my
foot over the door mat. In that way I didn't know much of what was
going on outside, and I was always glad of a bit of news.
"'Have you never heard of the League of the Red-headed Men?' he
asked, with his eyes open.
"'Why, I wonder at that, for you are eligible yourself for one of
"'And what are they worth?' I asked.
"'Oh, merely a couple of hundred a year, but the work is slight,
and it need not interfere very much with one's other occupations.'
"Well, you can easily think that that made me prick up my ears, for
the business has not been over good for some years, and an extra
couple of hundred would have been very handy.
"'Tell me all about it,' said I.
"'Well,' said he, showing me the advertisement, 'you can see for
yourself that the League has a vacancy, and there is the address
where you should apply for particulars. As far as I can make out,
the League was founded by an American millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins,
who was very peculiar in his ways. He was himself red-headed, and
he had a great sympathy for all red-headed men; so, when he died,
it was found that he had left his enormous fortune in the hands of
trustees, with instructions to apply the interest to the providing
of easy berths to men whose hair is of that color. From all I hear
it is splendid pay, and very little to do.'
"'But,' said I, 'there would be millions of red-headed men who
"'Not so many as you might think,' he answered. 'You see it is
really confined to Londoners, and to grown men. This American had
started from London when he was young, and he wanted to do the old
town a good turn. Then, again, I have heard it is of no use your
applying if your hair is light red, or dark red, or anything but
real, bright, blazing, fiery red. Now, if you cared to apply, Mr.
Wilson, you would just walk in; but perhaps it would hardly be
worth your while to put yourself out of the way for the sake of a
few hundred pounds.'
"Now it is a fact, gentlemen, as you may see for yourselves, that
my hair is of a very full and rich tint, so that it seemed to me
that, if there was to be any competition in the matter, I stood as
good a chance as any man that I had ever met. Vincent Spaulding
seemed to know so much about it that I thought he might prove
useful, so I just ordered him to put up the shutters for the day,
and to come right away with me. He was very willing to have a
holiday, so we shut the business up, and started off for the
address that was given us in the advertisement.
"I never hope to see such a sight as that again, Mr. Holmes. From
north, south, east, and west every man who had a shade of red in
his hair had tramped into the City to answer the advertisement.
Fleet Street was choked with red-headed folk, and Pope's Court
looked like a coster's orange barrow. I should not have thought
there were so many in the whole country as were brought together by
that single advertisement. Every shade of color they were--straw,
lemon, orange, brick, Irish setter, liver, clay; but, as Spaulding
said, there were not many who had the real vivid flame-colored
tint. When I saw how many were waiting, I would have given it up
in despair; but Spaulding would not hear of it. How he did it I
could not imagine, but he pushed and pulled and butted until he got
me through the crowd, and right up to the steps which led to the
office. There was a double stream upon the stair, some going up in
hope, and some coming back dejected; but we wedged in as well as we
could, and soon found ourselves in the office."
"Your experience has been a most entertaining one," remarked
Holmes, as his client paused and refreshed his memory with a huge
pinch of snuff. "Pray continue your very interesting statement."
"There was nothing in the office but a couple of wooden chairs and
a deal table, behind which sat a small man, with a head that was
even redder than mine. He said a few words to each candidate as he
came up, and then he always managed to find some fault in them
which would disqualify them. Getting a vacancy did not seem to be
such a very easy matter after all. However, when our turn came,
the little man was much more favorable to me than to any of the
others, and he closed the door as we entered, so that he might have
a private word with us.
"'This is Mr. Jabez Wilson,' said my assistant, 'and he is willing
to fill a vacancy in the League.'
"'And he is admirably suited for it,' the other answered. 'He has
every requirement. I cannot recall when I have seen anything so
fine.' He took a step backward, cocked his head on one side, and
gazed at my hair until I felt quite bashful. Then suddenly he
plunged forward, wrung my hand, and congratulated me warmly on my
"'It would be injustice to hesitate,' said he. 'You will, however,
I am sure, excuse me for taking an obvious precaution.' With that
he seized my hair in both his hands, and tugged until I yelled with
the pain. 'There is water in your eyes,' said he, as he released
me. 'I perceive that all is as it should be. But we have to be
careful, for we have twice been deceived by wigs and once by paint.
I could tell you tales of cobbler's wax which would disgust you
with human nature.' He stepped over to the window and shouted
through it at the top of his voice that the vacancy was filled. A
groan of disappointment came up from below, and the folk all
trooped away in different directions, until there was not a red
head to be seen except my own and that of the manager.
"'My name,' said he, 'is Mr. Duncan Ross, and I am myself one of
the pensioners upon the fund left by our noble benefactor. Are you
a married man, Mr. Wilson? Have you a family?'
"I answered that I had not.
"His face fell immediately.
"'Dear me!' he said, gravely, 'that is very serious indeed! I am
sorry to hear you say that. The fund was, of course, for the
propagation and spread of the red heads as well as for their
maintenance. It is exceedingly unfortunate that you should be a
"My face lengthened at this, Mr. Holmes, for I thought that I was
not to have the vacancy after all; but, after thinking it over for
a few minutes, he said that it would be all right.
"'In the case of another,' said he, 'the objection might be fatal,
but we must stretch a point in favor of a man with such a head of
hair as yours. When shall you be able to enter upon your new
"'Well, it is a little awkward, for I have a business already,'
"'Oh, never mind about that, Mr. Wilson!' said Vincent Spaulding.
'I shall be able to look after that for you.'
"'What would be the hours?' I asked.
"'Ten to two.'
"Now a pawnbroker's business is mostly done of an evening, Mr.
Holmes, especially Thursday and Friday evenings, which is just
before pay day; so it would suit me very well to earn a little in
the mornings. Besides, I knew that my assistant was a good man,
and that he would see to anything that turned up.
"'That would suit me very well,' said I. 'And the pay?'
"'Is four pounds a week.'
"'And the work?'
"'Is purely nominal.'
"'What do you call purely nominal?'
"'Well, you have to be in the office, or at least in the building,
the whole time. If you leave, you forfeit your whole position
forever. The will is very clear upon that point. You don't comply
with the conditions if you budge from the office during that time.'
"'It's only four hours a day, and I should not think of leaving,'
"'No excuse will avail,' said Mr. Duncan Ross, 'neither sickness,
nor business, nor anything else. There you must stay, or you lose
"'And the work?'
"'Is to copy out the "Encyclopaedia Britannica." There is the
first volume of it in that press. You must find your own ink,
pens, and blotting paper, but we provide this table and chair.
Will you be ready to-morrow?'
"'Certainly,' I answered.
"'Then, good-by, Mr. Jabez Wilson, and let me congratulate you once
more on the important position which you have been fortunate enough
to gain.' He bowed me out of the room, and I went home with my
assistant hardly knowing what to say or do, I was so pleased at my
own good fortune.
"Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in
low spirits again; for I had quite persuaded myself that the whole
affair must be some great hoax or fraud, though what its object
might be I could not imagine. It seemed altogether past belief
that anyone could make such a will, or that they would pay such a
sum for doing anything so simple as copying out the 'Encyclopaedia
Britannica.' Vincent Spaulding did what he could to cheer me up,
but by bed time I had reasoned myself out of the whole thing.
However, in the morning I determined to have a look at it anyhow,
so I bought a penny bottle of ink, and with a quill pen and seven
sheets of foolscap paper I started off for Pope's Court.
"Well, to my surprise and delight everything was as right as
possible. The table was set out ready for me, and Mr. Duncan Ross
was there to see that I got fairly to work. He started me off upon
the letter A, and then he left me; but he would drop in from time
to time to see that all was right with me. At two o'clock he bade
me good-day, complimented me upon the amount that I had written,
and locked the door of the office after me.
"This went on day after day, Mr. Holmes, and on Saturday the
manager came in and planked down four golden sovereigns for my
week's work. It was the same next week, and the same the week
after. Every morning I was there at ten, and every afternoon I
left at two. By degrees Mr. Duncan Ross took to coming in only
once of a morning, and then, after a time, he did not come in at
all. Still, of course. I never dared to leave the room for an
instant, for I was not sure when he might come, and the billet was
such a good one, and suited me so well, that I would not risk the
loss of it.
"Eight weeks passed away like this, and I had written about Abbots,
and Archery, and Armor, and Architecture, and Attica, and hoped
with diligence that I might get on to the Bs before very long. It
cost me something in foolscap, and I had pretty nearly filled a
shelf with my writings. And then suddenly the whole business came
to an end."
"To an end?"
"Yes, sir. And no later than this morning. I went to my work as
usual at ten o'clock, but the door was shut and locked, with a
little square of cardboard hammered onto the middle of the panel
with a tack. Here it is, and you can read for yourself."
He held up a piece of white cardboard, about the size of a sheet of
note paper. It read in this fashion:
"THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED.
Oct. 9, 1890."
Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the
rueful face behind it, until the comical side of the affair so
completely overtopped every consideration that we both burst out
into a roar of laughter.
"I cannot see that there is anything very funny," cried our client,
flushing up to the roots of his flaming head. "If you can do
nothing better than laugh at me, I can go elsewhere."
"No, no," cried Holmes, shoving him back into the chair from which
he had half risen. "I really wouldn't miss your case for the
world. It is most refreshingly unusual. But there is, if you will
excuse my saying so, something just a little funny about it. Pray
what steps did you take when you found the card upon the door?"
"I was staggered, sir. I did not know what to do. Then I called
at the offices round, but none of them seemed to know anything
about it. Finally, I went to the landlord, who is an accountant
living on the ground floor, and I asked him if he could tell me
what had become of the Red-headed League. He said that he had
never heard of any such body. Then I asked him who Mr. Duncan Ross
was. He answered that the name was new to him.
"'Well,' said I, 'the gentleman at No. 4.'
"'What, the red-headed man?'
"'Oh,' said he, 'his name was William Morris. He was a solicitor,
and was using my room as a temporary convenience until his new
premises were ready. He moved out yesterday.'
"'Where could I find him?'
"'Oh, at his new offices. He did tell me the address. Yes, 17
King Edward Street, near St. Paul's.'
"I started off, Mr. Holmes, but when I got to that address it was a
manufactory of artificial knee-caps, and no one in it had ever
heard of either Mr. William Morris or Mr. Duncan Ross."
"And what did you do then?" asked Holmes.
"I went home to Saxe-Coburg Square, and I took the advice of my
assistant. But he could not help me in any way. He could only say
that if I waited I should hear by post. But that was not quite
good enough, Mr. Holmes. I did not wish to lose such a place
without a struggle, so, as I had heard that you were good enough to
give advice to poor folk who were in need of it, I came right away
"And you did very wisely," said Holmes. "Your case is an
exceedingly remarkable one, and I shall be happy to look into it.
From what you have told me I think that it is possible that graver
issues hang from it than might at first sight appear."
"Grave enough!" said Mr. Jabez Wilson. "Why, I have lost four
pound a week."
"As far as you are personally concerned," remarked Holmes, "I do
not see that you have any grievance against this extraordinary
league. On the contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by some
thirty pounds, to say nothing of the minute knowledge which you
have gained on every subject which comes under the letter A. You
have lost nothing by them."
"No, sir. But I want to find out about them, and who they are, and
what their object was in playing this prank--if it was a prank--
upon me. It was a pretty expensive joke for them, for it cost them
"We shall endeavor to clear up these points for you. And, first,
one or two questions, Mr. Wilson. This assistant of yours who
first called your attention to the advertisement--how long had he
been with you?"
"About a month then."
"How did he come?"
"In answer to an advertisement."
"Was he the only applicant?"
"No, I had a dozen."
"Why did you pick him?"
"Because he was handy and would come cheap."
"At half wages, in fact."
"What is he like, this Vincent Spaulding?"
"Small, stout-built, very quick in his ways, no hair on his face,
though he's not short of thirty. Has a white splash of acid upon
Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. I thought
as much," said he. "Have you ever observed that his ears are
pierced for earrings?"
"Yes, sir. He told me that a gypsy had done it for him when he was
"Hum!" said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. "He is still
"Oh, yes, sir; I have only just left him."
"And has your business been attended to in your absence?"
"Nothing to complain of, sir. There's never very much to do of a
"That will do, Mr. Wilson. I shall be happy to give you an opinion
upon the subject in the course of a day or two. To-day is
Saturday, and I hope that by Monday we may come to a conclusion."
"Well, Watson," said Holmes, when our visitor had left us, "what do
you make of it all?"
"I make nothing of it," I answered frankly. "It is a most
"As a rule," said Holmes, "the more bizarre a thing is the less
mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless
crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the
most difficult to identify. But I must be prompt over this
"What are you going to do, then?" I asked.
"To smoke," he answered. "It is quite a three-pipe problem, and I
beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes." He curled
himself up in his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his
hawklike nose, and there he sat with his eyes closed and his black
clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some strange bird. I had
come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and indeed was
nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of his chair with the
gesture of a man who has made up his mind, and put his pipe down
upon the mantelpiece.
"Sarasate plays at St. James's Hall this afternoon," he remarked.
"What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for a
"I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very
"Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City first,
and we can have some lunch on the way. I observe that there is a
good deal of German music on the programme, which is rather more to
my taste than Italian or French. It is introspective, and I want
to introspect. Come along!"
We traveled by the Underground as far as Aldersgate; and a short
walk took us to Saxe-Coburg Square, the scene of the singular story
which we had listened to in the morning. It was a poky, little,
shabby-genteel place, where four lines of dingy, two-storied brick
houses looked out into a small railed-in inclosure, where a lawn of
weedy grass, and a few clumps of faded laurel bushes made a hard
fight against a smoke-laden and uncongenial atmosphere. Three gilt
balls and a brown board with JABEZ WILSON in white letters, upon a
corner house, announced the place where our red-headed client
carried on his business. Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it
with his head on one side, and looked it all over, with his eyes
shining brightly between puckered lids. Then he walked slowly up
the street, and then down again to the corner, still looking keenly
at the houses. Finally he returned to the pawnbroker's and, having
thumped vigorously upon the pavement with his stick two or three
times, he went up to the door and knocked. It was instantly opened
by a bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to
"Thank you," said Holmes, "I only wished to ask you how you would
go from here to the Strand."
"Third right, fourth left," answered the assistant, promptly,
closing the door.
"Smart fellow, that," observed Holmes as we walked away. "He is,
in my judgment, the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring I
am not sure that he has not a claim to be third. I have known
something of him before."
"Evidently," said I, "Mr. Wilson's assistant counts for a good deal
in this mystery of the Red-headed League. I am sure that you
inquired your way merely in order that you might see him."
"The knees of his trousers."
"And what did you see?"
"What I expected to see."
"Why did you beat the pavement?"
"My dear doctor, this is a time for observation, not for talk. We
are spies in an enemy's country. We know something of Saxe-Coburg
Square. Let us now explore the parts which lie behind it."
The road in which we found ourselves as we turned round the corner
from the retired Saxe-Coburg Square presented as great a contrast
to it as the front of a picture does to the back. It was one of
the main arteries which convey the traffic of the City to the north
and west. The roadway was blocked with the immense stream of
commerce flowing in a double tide inward and outward, while the
footpaths were black with the hurrying swarm of pedestrians. It
was difficult to realize, as we looked at the line of fine shops
and stately business premises, that they really abutted on the
other side upon the faded and stagnant square which we had just
"Let me see," said Holmes, standing at the corner, and glancing
along the line, "I should like just to remember the order of the
houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of
London. There is Mortimer's, the tobacconist; the little newspaper
shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the
Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane's carriage-building depot.
That carries us right on to the other block. And now, doctor,
we've done our work, so it's time we had some play. A sandwich and
a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is
sweetness, and delicacy, and harmony, and there are no red-headed
clients to vex us with their conundrums."
My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a
very capable performer, but a composer of no ordinary merit. All
the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect
happiness, gently waving his long thin fingers in time to the
music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes
were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the
relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was
possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature
alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and
astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction
against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally
predominated in him. The swing of his nature took him from extreme
languor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, he was never so
truly formidable as when, for days on end, he had been lounging in
his armchair amid his improvisations and his black-letter editions.
Then it was that the lust of the chase would suddenly come upon
him, and that his brilliant reasoning power would rise to the level
of intuition, until those who were unacquainted with his methods
would look askance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not that
of other mortals. When I saw him that afternoon so enwrapped in
the music at St. James's Hall, I felt that an evil time might be
coming upon those whom he had set himself to hunt down.
"You want to go home, no doubt, doctor," he remarked, as we
"Yes, it would be as well."
"And I have some business to do which will take some hours. This
business at Saxe-Coburg Square is serious."
"A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every reason to
believe that we shall be in time to stop it. But to-day being
Saturday rather complicates matters. I shall want your help to-
"At what time?"
"Ten will be early enough."
I shall be at Baker Street at ten."
"Very well. And, I say, doctor! there may be some little danger,
so kindly put your army revolver in your pocket." He waved his
hand, turned on his heel, and disappeared in an instant among the
I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbors, but I was
always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings
with Sherlock Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had
seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that
he saw clearly not only what had happened, but what was about to
happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and
grotesque. As I drove home to my house in Kensington I thought
over it all, from the extraordinary story of the red-headed copier
of the "Encyclopaedia" down to the visit to Saxe-Coburg Square, and
the ominous words with which he had parted from me. What was this
nocturnal expedition, and why should I go armed? Where were we
going, and what were we to do? I had the hint from Holmes that
this smooth-faced pawnbroker's assistant was a formidable man--a
man who might play a deep game. I tried to puzzle it out, but gave
it up in despair, and set the matter aside until night should bring
It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made my way
across the Park, and so through Oxford Street to Baker Street. Two
hansoms were standing at the door, and, as I entered the passage, I
heard the sound of voices from above. On entering his room, I
found Holmes in animated conversation with two men, one of whom I
recognized as Peter Jones, the official police agent; while the
other was a long, thin, sad-faced man, with a very shiny hat and
oppressively respectable frock coat.
"Ha! our party is complete," said Holmes, buttoning up his pea-
jacket, and taking his heavy hunting crop from the rack. "Watson,
I think you know Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard? Let me introduce you
to Mr. Merryweather, who is to be our companion in to-night's
"We're hunting in couples again, doctor, you see," said Jones, in
his consequential way. "Our friend here is a wonderful man for
Back to Full Books